Abusive parenting is often something that goes on covertly in our society. To the outsider it might not even be noticed. With how a family or parent presents themselves to the outside world being the complete opposite of how they our behind closed doors.
These people can hold positions of great responsibility and even socially acceptable roles. Making them appear to be highly unlikely to be abusive to their children. Then there are parents who don't hold such high positions and these are the ones that are often portrayed as more likely to be abusive.
However, it is evident that is doesn't matter what roles someone plays in a society or how acceptable they may appear; parents from all backgrounds and walks of life can be abusive.
What Is Abusive Parenting?
Abusive parenting can have many interpretations and mean different things. If one has been abused they will naturally associate abuse as being what they experienced. For some it might have been physical and for others it might have been emotional abuse for example.
In any case what is occurring is the Childs boundaries are not being respected. The child is also being seen as an object and a possession of the parent.
There is a quote in the book; The Prophet, by Khalil Gibran that says 'they come through you but not from you'. Here he is referring to how children are expressions of life and are not owned by the parents. This is clearly not the outlook of an abusive parent.
The abuse I am referring to is the kind of behaviour that is carried out on a regular and consistent basis. However, occasional abuse could be just as destructive. We are all imperfect human beings who all do things from, time to time that are not always supportive for example. But I believe that there is a fine line between the odd behavioural mistake here and there and abusive behaviour.
Children are both vulnerable and dependent on their parents; their own safety is under their control. And as a consequence of this; the parents exercise such power and responsibility. The question is: what happens when parents are irresponsible and abuse the power that they have?
What happens is the children are taken advantage of and our seen as objects for the parents to control and to treat however they wish.
These parents are likely to position themselves as people to be feared. Using different forms of intimidation to control and influence their children. Their children will not be able to develop a relationship of trust and safety.
And this is only normal for a child if it is never sure what will happen next or how its parents will behave. The child will then experience fight, flight or freeze on a regular basis.
They will soon form an identity of shame; that there is something inherently wrong with them. It would be too dangerous to blame the parents for such abuse. With the child being in such a precarious position the child has to blame themselves. And this is due to the child being so powerless and if it were to see the parents as inadequate it would experience further feelings of rejection and abandonment.
Experiencing Shame or guilt for example is a natural part of being human; what is not normal is when these feelings are felt for prolonged periods of time. If we lie or cheat it is natural to feel guilty or shameful, but is these feelings are constantly felt they become destructive. And by having these early traumatic experiences, one can be in a perpetual state of shame or guilt.
It's Who I Am
This is because one can come to identify with their experience and believe that they are inherently faulty. And this is not much of a surprise; if the people who were meant to care and love for the child behaved in such an abusive manner.
It is then highly unlikely the child will be able to develop real self worth or self esteem. And this will cause them to constantly look outside and to the views of others to define if they have worth or not.
The child was never loved or accepted for who he or she was; it was brought up to believe there was something inherently wrong with who it was. And if there was any love and that's a big if, it would have been conditional and based on certain requirements being fulfilled.
This of course, has the potential to lead to all kinds of emotional and physical problems. These include: Depression, suicidal tendencies, self loathing, self harm, isolation, overeating, underrating and numerous others.
Another consequence is that the children are likely to grow up with the perception that people are abusive and that people cannot be trusted. That it is not safe to be around people.
The ego mind will then create an association of safety around this kind of behaviour. Because this behaviour is familiar and is the first experience that they have had of people; it will lay down the foundations for how people are.
The body remembers everything that has happened. It might have been removed from the mind, but it still exists in the cells of the body. When one is experienced to painful situations it is often normal for that person to cut themselves off from their body.
When the mind dissociates from this pain and trauma it allows the mind to gain a sense of control over the experience and it is also the minds way of protecting itself. This defence mechanism is utilized to ensure ones survival.
And if we were to take a closer look we would most likely see that this is what happened to the abusive parents all those years ago.
The abusive parents are likely to have had a childhood that was just as abusive; the abuse might have even been passed on from one generation to another. If one has experienced abuse, they know how destructive it is and therefore the last thing they would want to do is to carry out the same behaviour to another person. And yet this is often what happens.
Logically this doesn't make sense and this is because in order to understand the reasons for their behaviour we have to look at it from an emotional angle.
Ultimately their behaviour is not conscious and they are unaware of what they are doing. This is not to say that what they are doing is right. They still carry their pain and have never processed this pain; and so the abused become the abusers.
So by abusing their children they are acting out this pain. This pain is years old and has nothing to do with the children or child involved. Their feelings of anger, revenge and rage for example are being released.
And as a result of the parents being abused by their parents, they were then not able to develop functional boundaries. Boundaries allow one to have a sense of self and to have a sense of individuality. They also allow one to know where they begin and end and where another person begins and ends.
This process doesn't usually happen to people that are abused. And if the parents have no understanding of what boundaries are because of their own childhood, it is then highly unlikely that they will be able to create boundaries for their child.
Of course many years would likely have passed since they were abused and there are plenty of examples where abused children don't go onto to abuse their children as a result of becoming conscious. However there are also plenty of examples where the same behaviour is carried out.
When the ability to be conscious is not exercised and different defence mechanism are in place it makes it a lot harder to change this dysfunctional behaviour. If years have passed and nothing has changed it is easy for a human being to become like a robot.
It then becomes extremely difficult to admit to ones behaviour and to remove the denial that is often created through years of repression.
Having no conscious awareness can lead to a life of reaction and impulse. And this is why the less awareness one has the more likely it is for them to be abusive and dysfunctional. It could then be said that repression is a precursor to abuse.
The more aware and conscious one is the less likely they are to abuse another or to abuse themselves.
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Oliver J R Cooper
Oliver JR Cooper
Author of 26 books, Transformational Writer, Teacher & Consultant.
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That which is contained within these articles is based on my own empirical understanding and is true for me at the time they were written. However, as I continue to grow, what I perceive as the truth will inevitably change and as a result of this - parts of these articles may not reflect my current outlook.